5 Types of Online Courses

2 min

If you’re thinking about going back to school but are worried you don’t have enough time, online courses could be the right fit for you. Instead of traveling to meet with a teacher or trainer in person, you can access lessons from your home computer at your convenience.

There are many types of online courses covering a wide range of topics. Course prices also vary. You can take a course for free and pay for the certificate, pay a monthly subscription fee, or buy access to the course for a one-time fee.

If you are interested in continuing your education online, check if any of these course formats would meet your needs:

Short-Form Courses

Short-form courses, also known as mini-courses, cover a specific skill or topic. These courses are designed to stand alone. This means that you do not need to take additional courses to reach the learning objectives.

Short-form courses can be completed in as little as a few hours. These courses are best suited for learning how to do a specific task that does not require certification. For example, a short-form course is perfect for learning how to use a new software tool or create a craft project.

Short-form courses may include a combination of video lessons, text, and multiple-choice tests. Most of these courses are self-paced and do not include access to a live instructor.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

MOOCs are online courses designed to enroll large numbers of students at a time. You can find MOOCs on education platforms such as Coursera and edX. Most MOOCs are created by respected universities or industry professionals.

MOOCs are often available for free, or at an affordable one-time cost. While the material and curriculum is created by leading professionals, the courses are self-led. So MOOCs are ideal for earning credentials in areas that do not require supervision or direct feedback.

MOOCs use the latest in education technology, including interactive quizzes and student forums. After completing a MOOC, you may receive an industry-recognized credential.

Distance Learning

Distance learning is a university or college course offered online. Many universities offer entire degree programs through distance learning.

You would register for this type of course through the school. Unlike MOOCs or short-form courses, distance learning programs are synchronous. This means that the course will be taught in real time by the instructor.

While distance learning can remove obstacles like transportation or distance, you would still have to follow a structured schedule. Depending on the format of the course, you may also be required to attend some classes in person.

During the distance learning course, you will probably interact with your professor and classmates through a classroom management platform.  Many of these platforms will include resources to help you engage in the course, such as an online Q&A tool, links to supplemental texts, and past lectures.

Distance learning courses are generally cheaper than in-person college courses. Typically fees are based on credit hours and other variables such as lab fees or additional tuition costs.


Masterclasses are special one-off learning opportunities led by an industry expert. These courses are generally exclusive and expensive. Spots may be limited, and attendees must often have a high level of experience.

Masterclass topics are often very specific and focused on advanced subjects. Many masterclasses are synchronous and offer opportunities to interact with the expert trainer.

Instead of a set curriculum, masterclasses are often project-based. Attendees share their work, their challenges, and their progress to get feedback from their peers and instructor.

Masterclasses offer unique learning experiences. Depending on the course and instructor, taking a course could help your resume stand out or give you more credibility in your industry.

One-on-One Course

One-on-one courses are a type of individualized class where you work directly with your instructor over video.

These courses usually begin with an assessment to determine your current knowledge level, review your goals, and create a plan to reach your learning objectives.

Language courses are one of the most common examples of a one-to-one course. The instructor is usually a qualified language teacher who is fluent in both the student’s native and target language.

One-on-one courses usually require multiple sessions to achieve learning objectives. However, students tend to make more significant improvements due to individualized attention.

Few one-on-one courses offer certifications. However, many are designed to prepare students for standardized tests that can demonstrate ability.

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